Here’s what led discussions among the most influential voices in food, beverage and agriculture this week:

  • Hurricane Ida disrupted everything from restaurants to grain terminals.
  • Researchers continued to bicker over what is healthy.
  • Restaurants, retailers and third parties competed for delivery dollars.

“The most pressing problem is not dieting itself, but the collision of the modern food environment with our immutable evolutionary heritage that drives us to find and consume food when it is available.”

Michael Lowe, PhD, Drexel University (Science Daily)

Eyes on Ida

Severe weather continues to wreak havoc across the country, straining the nation’s food supply. This week, Hurricane Ida slammed into the Gulf region, displacing residents and disrupting businesses in its path.

  • As Ida approached, USDA reminded “communities, farmers and ranchers, families and small businesses … that USDA has programs that provide assistance in the wake of disasters.”
  • Nation’s Restaurant News warned that Louisiana restaurants could be without power for weeks.
  • Eater New Orleans promoted local and national relief efforts that were on the scene immediately following the hurricane with volunteer opportunities that included community feeding efforts by World Central Kitchen.
  • Meatingplace contributor Tom Johnston encouraged companies of all sizes to take stock of their business insurance coverage and be prepared for when crises occur.
  • Assessing the damage, Agri-Pulse summarized how the region’s sugar cane crop took the biggest hit, while rice, soybeans and cotton fields also sustained damage.
  • Reuters reported damaged grain terminals in Louisiana disrupted “shipments from the Gulf Coast, which accounts for about 60% of U.S. exports, at a time when global supplies are tight and demand is strong from China.”
  • Sanderson Farms stated that no employees had been injured at plant facilities, and CEO Joe Sanderson reassured, “We have experience managing through catastrophic weather events, and we were prepared to respond to Hurricane Ida and do all we can to protect our assets.”

Universities on Health

Researchers at leading colleges and universities continue to deliver studies examining how food impacts our health and, increasingly, how our diets impact our environment.

  • Eating hot dogs reduces your life expectancy while eating nuts and seeds adds minutes to your life, according to two University of Michigan researchers (The Conversation). However, many influential voices, including The Washington Post’s Tamar Haspel called foul: “We can’t let people go around telling folks that each hot dog costs them 36 minutes of ‘healthy life.'”
  • With an enticing title like “Dieting: Villain or Scapegoat?” you need to read further. Science Daily summarized recent Drexel University research on the effectiveness of dieting. “Stated differently, asking whether dieting is ‘good or bad’ is analogous to asking if taking methadone is good or bad,” said head researcher Michael Lowe.
  • New York Times health writer Jane Brody shared five diet and lifestyle choices to prevent heartburn, like reducing coffee consumption. Additionally, Times reporter Anahad O’Connor summarized University of California, San Francisco research linking minor alcohol consumption to atrial fibrillation and other heart conditions.
  • Tufts Friedman School published a study that found that 67% of calories in the diets of children and adolescents came from “ultraprocessed” foods. Lead author Fang Fang Zhang shared some good news about a drop in calories from sugar-sweetened drinks: “This finding shows the benefits of the concerted campaign over the past few years to reduce overall consumption.”
  • Laura Reiley’s article in the Washington Post shared how remote learning and other pandemic-induced sedentary activity has increased the rate of obesity in children ages 5 to 11.

Delivering for Dollars

The pandemic boosted food delivery, and neither looks like it will go away anytime soon. Foodservice and retail channels continue to adjust strategies that take advantage of this trend. Meanwhile, big cities made moves to limit unfair practices in the sector.

  • Nation’s Restaurant News reported that Wendy’s reformulated its french fries to “retain heat and crispiness for between 15 and 30 minutes.”
  • On August 24, Walmart launched an entire delivery-as-a-service business plan: Walmart GoLocal. The retailer has opened the service to “local merchants” and “national and enterprise retail clients.”
  • Kroger partnered with Kitchen United to create “ghost kitchen” hubs where several restaurants prepare food exclusively for takeout or delivery.
  • On August 27, the city of Chicago sued DoorDash and Grubhub for deceptive practices such as listing unaffiliated restaurants as partners or collecting a “Chicago fee” that does not go to the city. DoorDash responded: “This lawsuit isn’t about the facts, it’s a cynical and desperate ploy to distract from the urgent needs facing Chicago’s small business community and residents.”
  • After the New York City Council passed a permanent 15% cap on delivery fees on August 26, Just Eat Takeaway CEO Jitse Groen tweeted that the limits are unconstitutional. He also stated, “Fee caps increase delivery fees for consumers.” Actually, we’re pretty sure that’s actually the opposite of how fee limits work.

“Ghost kitchens may or may not be the future of the restaurant industry, but they’re definitely the present.”

Terrence Doyle, Eater

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Spicy Berries

The Wall Street Journal shared an array of theories on why humans love hot peppers — a fruit (peppers are technically berries) whose defense mechanism is quite literally to cause harm. Some evolutionary theories include food preservation, pain management or “just showing off.”

‘The Rising Star in Fermentation’

In her Berry on Dairy blog, Donna Berry examined kefir and proposed this high-protein fermented milk drink could be the next Greek yogurt, especially in the context of the pandemic. Mintel’s Stephanie Mattucci explained, “Immune health will still be important to many consumers, even after the vaccine. It’s all about staying healthy against many illnesses. It is especially critical until the youngest population can get vaccinated.”

Water Wars

On August 30, a U.S. district court vacated the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, saying it risks “serious environmental harm.” American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall disagreed: “This ruling casts uncertainty over farmers and ranchers across the country and threatens the progress they’ve made to responsibly manage water and natural resources.” In contrast, Earthjustice attorney Janette Brimmer said, “This sensible ruling allows the Clean Water Act to continue to protect all of our waters while the Biden administration develops a replacement rule.”

Double Gummy

Eater’s deep dive on the gummy describes how gummies went from a candy to a synonym of health and wellness. “Gummies make wellness, however you define it, feel convenient and cutting-edge, something to be savored instead of swallowed,” explained author Rachel Del Valle. Contributing to the gummy craze, Starburst announced Starburst Airs, an aerated, bouncier version of the candy.

TSA Pre-cook Certification

Despite TSA’s myriad restrictions on what can go in your checked bag, food is generally OK for domestic travel (border crossings are a different story). That said, although it’s legal, we can’t really recommend that you transport raw chicken in a poorly secured cooler, as ABC captured this week. Warning: this can’t be unseen.